By Seth Nadel
At the end of part two, you had sized, deprimed, trimmed, and reprimed, cases in hand, along with the powder and bullets you want to use. Let’s finish the job, and go shooting!
Now that the cases are primed, we need to talk about powders. Not all powders work in all rounds – there are pistol powders and rifle powders. Some reduced rifle loads use pistol powders, but they are a special case. NEVER try to use rifle powders in pistols, or pistol powder in rifles, unless you can find the load in two different reloading manuals! One powder, which happens to be one of the earliest smokeless powders made, can be used in some pistol and rifle loads. That would be Unique, a most appropriately named powder.
Some makes number their powders – H110, N310, Reloader 12, etc. Other makes use names – Bullseye, Unique, Trail Boss, etc. Different makers make powders with almost identical names – do not get confused. IMR 4895 (Improved Military Rifle) is not exactly the same as H 4895 (Hodgdon). They have slightly different load data, so please pay attention.
Look in your reloading manuals, and seek the caliber and bullet weight you want to load. Jacketed bullets are lead, with a copper blend jacket to allow it to be shot at higher velocities. Plated bullets have an electroplate jacket, and should be loaded using jacketed bullet data. Lead bullets are just that, with some kind of lubricant to reduce lead deposits in the barrel. They are the least expensive, are ideal for practice, but do have upper velocity limits. Use the correct load data.
You will see a number of powders, with a starting load, and a maximum load, and the velocities the publisher of the manual got with their test gun or universal receiver. Your results will vary for the reasons already mentioned, but this gives you some guidance. Never start with a maximum load! I always start ½ way between the starting load and the maximum load. Also note, their exact combination of case, primer, powder, and bullet – if you do not have these exact components, stay in the middle area and stay safe!
Reloading manuals also have a ‘burn rate chart’, listing powders from fastest to slowest burning. NEVER substitute powders based on a burn chart – it’s a fast way to meet those nice folks who work in your local emergency room! Use ONLY the specified powder.
SOME WORDS OF WISDOM:
There is no game animal or target on this planet that can tell the difference between a bullet at 2,500 feet per second, and one at 2,700 fps. But they can ALL tell the difference between a hit – and a miss! Load for accuracy, not velocity!
Many firearms are more accurate with slower loads. The benefits of higher velocity are a flatter trajectory, thus less ‘hold over’ at longer ranges. But with modern rangefinders, you can find the exact range to your target.
As I noted earlier, I will not put powder into a case (called ‘charging’ the case), until I have verified I am looking at the correct data, and the load is shown safe in two independent sources. These can be two different reloading manuals, or a reloading manual and the powder or bullet makers’ web site. In any case, I write down the load, either on a paste on label or a scrap of paper to go in the bag or box with the ammo. Record the primers, powder make and charge, bullet make, and date. I also keep a little black book – this one has every load I have made up for that caliber, in case it is really accurate, or a waste of powder & bullet. I also record the powder measure setting, to speed up loading the next batch.
Powder is loaded by weight, but almost everyone uses a volumetric powder measure. Unless you are loading 20 rounds or less, a powder measure is a huge time saver. Thus you need a scale and a measure. Scales come in two types, balance beam or electronic. I have been using the same balance been for 40 years, but about 2 years ago moved to an electronic scale. I found the new scale weights .2 grain (7,000 grains to a pound) heavier than my balance beam. Now, for a charge of rifle powder, say 44 grains, that is no big deal. For light pistol loads of 4 grains, that can make a difference. I also checked with the maker of the electronic scale, and found their margin of error is .2 grain, something else to be aware of.
Set up your scale, and zero it – so it reads zero with the empty pan in place. Set your powder measure to drop some powder, and put some powder into the measure – about ½ of the reservoir is good. Only keep the can of powder you are using on your bench! Otherwise you may end up mixing powders, making the mixed powder a waste. I always tap the reservoir a few times, to settle the powder. Using a container or empty case, drop 2 or 3 charges, and dump them back into the measure. This helps to settle the powder as well. Then drop a charge, and weigh it. With a balance beam scale, it may take a few tries to get the ‘poises’ (the little weights on the beam) set just right. With my electronic, I find I have to let it set for 2-3 seconds before it registers the correct weight. Adjust the measure until it drops the weight called for.
Here is another bit of hard earned wisdom:
NEVER ACCEPT THE FIRST CORRECT WEIGHT!
Drop 2-3 charges and weigh each one. Depending on the powder you have chosen, the weight may vary by a few tenth’s. Since long stick powders run through the measure less evenly than ball or flake powders, your charges may be off a bit. I set my measure to ’weight light’, a few tenths less than the desired charge, and then trickle grains of powder into the pan to bring the charge up to weight. If the load as dropped is accurate enough for your needs, you can skip this step. Ball and fine flake powders usually meter so well, you can set you measure for the exact weight.
Once you are satisfied that your measure is dropping the charge you want, get out your ‘loading block’, a wood or plastic block with holes that will hold the charged cases. My rule is that all cases on the bench lie on their sides, unless they have a charge in them! Otherwise, you could end up loading a bullet into a case than only has a primer – which you will regret (yup, I have done that too)! Check your charge weight about every 10 rounds, just to be sure.
Once all the cases are charged, use a flashlight to verify that they all have powder, and the charges all look to be about the same height in the case. Low or high charges get reweighed.
Seating the bullets is the final step for most loads. Set up the bullet seating die in your press per the instructions. Check that the overall length (OAL) of your rounds matches what it says in the reloading manual. If you use a magazine fed gun, check that your rounds will fit in the magazine as well. I own a early high cap .45, and the magazines are just a bit tighter than the listed OAL. This can result in rounds getting wedged in the magazine and not feeding into the chamber. When trying a new bullet, I make up a dummy round (no powder or primer), to check seating depth, OAL, crimping (we will get to that next), and to insure they will feed from the magazine.
Crimping is usually, but not always, done in the bullet seating die. It bends the neck of the case into the bullet, to keep it from moving in or out of the case under recoil. Either direction can be really bad. In a revolver, the bullets in the rounds in the cylinder tend to want to move forward under recoil. If they do, they can protrude enough to keep the cylinder from revolving.
In semi-auto rifles and pistols, and even bolt action rifles, the bullets may try to seat deeper into the case, bad on two counts. 1) They may jam the action, tying the gun up, or even worse, 2)they may move back, increasing chamber pressures astronomically. This can be catastrophic, causing your gun to “KABOOM” and blow apart. So read and follow the directions for setting up your bullet seating or separate crimping die. Remember, once your dies are set, you may only need to change them for different bullets.
We are done – just wipe off the rounds with either a soft cloth or a paper towel, put them into your box or bag, and go try them out! You may find a minor adjustment of your powder charge can change ’gaggles’ of shots into ’groups’, and this is part of the fun of reloading. As you meet other reloaders, they will pass on their tips for creating more accurate ammo.
What if you want to load lots of ammo, for practice and competition? There are two ways to get there. In my earlier reloading days, I came up with what I called ’process’ reloading – doing only one stage of the process at a time, to lots of cases. Using coffee cans, I would throw all my dirty .45 brass in can #1, and clean it when I had the time. Clean brass went into can #2. Then I would sit down and size, deprime, and reprime the brass in one session, tossing it into can #3. Another evening found me dropping powder charges and seating bullets, so can #4 was always at least ½ full. Thus every time I wanted to shoot, I always had some ammo ready.
Later, I bought a progressive press – one that allows each pull of the handle to produce a loaded round. So I load a clean, trimmed piece of brass into station one, and pull the handle. This sizes, deprimes, and reprimes the case. Rotate the shell plate, add another piece of brass, and the first piece gets belled and the powder charge gets dropped. Rotate the shell plated again, put a bullet into case #1, insert another piece of brass, and after the next pull, the bullet is seated, in some calibers it is crimped, and the round is ready. In straight walled cases, the next rotation puts the round into a separate crimping die, and with the 5th rotation, a complete loaded round falls into the bin. Repeat until you have the amount of ammo you want ready.
I have experience with the very old, and now out of print STAR machine, a fully automated electrically run AUTO-LOAD, a C&H Auto Champ (circa 1971), and my current favorite, a Dillon 550b. The AUTO-LOAD and Auto Champ are both straight line machines, where the brass moves from left to right. The STAR and Dillon are rotary machines, taking less bench space. Sadly, the Auto Champ is also no longer made. Others such as Lyman, Hornaday, and RCBS also make progressive machines
I currently load 9mm, .38 Spl, .45, .223/5.56, 7.62/308, and 30-06 on progressive machines. Other calibers I shoot less frequently, like 30-40 Krag, 7mm Mauser, 8mm Mauser, and 45-70 are loaded on my single station press.
Just think, in the time you took to read this series, you could have loaded several hundred rounds of custom tailored ammo for your favorite firearm(s). So what are you waiting for? Get the gear, set up your reloading spot, and start reloading!